We need your support to keep TheyWorkForYou running and make sure people across the UK can continue to hold their elected representatives to account.Donate to our crowdfunder
I congratulate my hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan on securing the debate. As someone who represents RNAS Culdrose in my constituency, I cannot stress enough that base’s value to our local area, to our community and to the skills and opportunities afforded to our young people and those who work there.
My hon. Friend was right to challenge us to understand the full value of defence, both of the realm and of UK plc. I do not want to repeat what has already been said, but I will touch briefly on the issue of recruitment and retention of armed forces personnel, starting with where they live and work.
I have seen for myself the standard of accommodation that we expect our armed forces personnel to live in. If we value them as we say we do, and if we want them to join and stay in the armed forces, we must find the money to improve where they live. I challenge the Minister to challenge Government on how serious they are about the climate change emergency, because the Committee on Climate Change clearly recommended an improvement of our accommodation. It is right that we challenge the Government to fund quickly the improvement and retrofitting of armed forces accommodation. That would not come out of the defence budget, but would meet our national and international commitments. Is the Minister prepared to challenge the Government on their commitment to improving the living accommodation of our servicemen and women and their families?
On the working environment, one does not have to go to many bases—I have been to a few—to see that real investment is needed in the places that our armed forces work. There has been a multimillion-pound investment in RNAS Culdrose—it is an amazing piece of work but it has taken us an extremely long time to get there. We used to have hangars that had not been useable for some time. I am pleased to see the work going on there, but I recognise that more is needed there and elsewhere. That is not an easy thing to do when also trying to provide right kind of kit—the technical expression for our carriers and so on—but it is right that wherever our armed forces are based and work, we give them the safest and best working environment possible.
I will touch on one other area briefly. The armed forces community, as defined in the armed forces covenant, includes regular personnel, reservists and veterans, but not the merchant navy or the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Service. That is relevant to my constituency. The merchant navy is not the armed forces, but it is tough on the children. Mums and dads can be away for the entire school holidays, which will be the case for some of my constituents this summer. They can be caught up in aggressive and intimidating situations around the globe, in particular with attacks by pirates and other rogue individuals elsewhere on the planet. As a result, schools in my constituency have to handle difficult situations. That is not about defence spending, but I would like the Minister to consider whether modern-day threats and the modern-day role of the merchant navy justify including the merchant navy—such as those of my constituents who serve—in the armed forces covenant.